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All in the Family: A Practical Guide to Successful Multigenerational Living

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating


This book details all the ins and outs, pros and cons, of multigenerational living.

Families considering multigenerational living should read this book first.

Photo courtesy of PriceGrabber

The Bottom Line

If you're an empty-nester who sometimes feels that you rattle around in your big house, or if your knees complain when you go up and down the stairs and steps of your home, you may have the vague feeling that there is something basically wrong with the way Americans are being housed. After you read All in the Family: A Practical Guide to Successful Multigenerational Living, you'll be sure of it. And you may be convinced that the way for us to make progress in the area of housing is to move backward, to the multigenerational households that were fairly standard until after World War II.
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  • Very thorough treatment of topic
  • Based on more than one hundred interviews
  • Thoroughly indexed and annotated
  • Well-written and readable


  • Authors have some biases


  • Updates 2007's Together Again
  • Written by a brother and sister team
  • Sharon Graham Niederhaus holds a master's thesis in multigenerational living from Stanford.
  • John L. Graham is professor emeritus of business at the University of California, Irvine.
  • Published by Taylor Trade Publishing, an imprint of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group
  • 356 pages, trade paperback

Guide Review - All in the Family: A Practical Guide to Successful Multigenerational Living

This book is a rich resource for anyone who is considering multigenerational living. If you are not considering it, read this book, and you are likely to start thinking about it. Multigenerational living makes sense for at least three reasons: it can simplify elder care, it can help with child care and it can cut housing costs. Clearly, it can be a smart housing choice for grandparents. The authors of the book plainly believe that there are other, less-quantifiable benefits, but they make a good case for families living together even if the issue of family closeness is ignored.

Many Americans do not realize that single-family dwellings are a relatively new phenomenon in the Western world. The Industrial Revolution drove workers to move away from their kinship groupings to find jobs. Prior to that time, families naturally lived in multigenerational settings. The single-family housing model may have worked well for some in the intervening years, but there are forces at work today that make multigenerational living a practical and natural choice once again. Americans are living longer, usually in a state of health that doesn't require nursing home care. Younger two-career families struggle with finding and paying for good child care. And the recent recession has left many families floundering financially.

Multigenerational living can be a solution to all of these problems. But typical American homes are uniquely unsuitable for occupation by more than one family and may be especially unsuitable for the elderly. They are, as the authors say, "Peter Pan housing -- built as if no one ever ages."

All is not lost, however. Existing housing can be altered to accommodate more than one generation. Accessory apartments, sometimes called granny flats, can be added, either free-standing or attached to the home. Families that don't mind moving can consider duplexes, townhomes, family compounds and a host of other options.

This book provides guidance for all the sticky issues of living together, including the following:

  • Making a home accessible for seniors
  • Dealing with housing laws and deed restrictions
  • Deciding ownership and inheritance issues
  • Handling the cultural stigma
  • Making agreements, both formal and informal, about living together

The even-handed treatment of the issues slips only in a couple of places. The authors have a bias again nursing homes -- admittedly shared by legions of people -- stating that "even the best nursing home is a bad place to be." They also suggest that families with aging parents (grandparents) should begin talking about making different living arrangements when the seniors reach age 70. My husband and I are approaching that age and plan on many more years in our current home. The burgeoning Aging in Place movement suggests that many seniors are able, with proper support, to stay in their own homes for decades past 70. Still, I agree that age 70 is probably a good age to begin the discussion.

The bottom line is that families need to like each other to live together. As the authors point out, family members may love each other, but it's best not to try living together unless the mix also includes a healthy helping of like.

Learn more by visiting the authors' website. Also read first-person accounts of families living together or contribute your own story.

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